Thursday, November 5, 2015

Language of Confusion: The -Firm

October is over. Time to get back to etymology with even less of a theme. Today’s word/suffix is: firm. I mean, obviously. Read the title.

Firm showed up as a verb in the early fourteenth century and an adjective in the late fourteenth century—the noun didn’t show up until about four hundred years after that. Interestingly, the verb first appeared as fermen and the adjective as ferm, although both had pretty much the same meanings as today. Ferm comes from the Old French ferm (we’re so original) and the classical Latin firmus, which is just firm, while fermen comes from the Old French fermer and classical Latin firmare, to strengthen. Another funny thing is that the noun firm actually came to us by way of German firma, company, and Italian firma, signature. Apparently, the Late Latin idea of confirming by signature passed on to Italian as signature, which then I guess went to German as a business because…businesses had signatures? Whatever. That firm also comes from the Latin firmare, which can be traced all the way back to the Proto Indo European dher, hold or support.

Confirm first showed up in the middle of the thirteenth century, making it older than firm. It was originally confirmyn, to ratify, and comes from the Old French confermer, which basically means confirm, and classical Latin confirmare, also confirm. Yeah, not a lot of changing with the -firm words. The prefix com- is just used as an intensifier here, which is probably why this word’s meanings are so close to firm.

Affirm showed up at about the same time as firm, the early fourteenth century. It comes from the Old French afermier, affirm, and classical Latin affirmare, which could mean affirm or to strengthen or steady. Which is also pretty much the same thing as firm. Seriously, can we have some variety here? The prefix comes from ad-, to, so the word is just…to firm. No frigging creativity here.

Finally, infirm. It showed up in the late fourteenth century meaning weak or unsound—so the opposite of firm. It comes from the classical Latin infirmus, weak, with the prefix in- meaning “opposite of” here. Which is exactly what I just said. No big mysteries this week, huh?

TL;DR: Firm and all its offshoots are void of originality.



  1. Firm just wasn't very creative, was it?
    The Firm is also the name of a so-so 'supergroup' from about thirty years ago. Yeah, I'm showing my age here...

  2. I have nothing to offer except inappropriate jokes.

  3. I guess when a word works, it works.

  4. Infirm's one of those words that doesn't get much usage.

    Though I can think of a few people with infirm minds.

  5. A firm business signature? Not sure on the connection of those two.

  6. Firm is one of those words with so many different meanings depending on how you use it. Interesting to know where it came from..


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